book: Two Murders in My Double Life (1996) by Josef Škvorecký


An interesting novel that I didn’t feel quite pulled together, and I’m not sure why. Josef Škvorecký is one of those widely praised writers whose work, to my shame, I haven’t read (until now). This novel, first published in Canada in 1999 (whatever Goodreads might have you think), was his first in English rather than in his native Czech. Perhaps the transition from one language to another inhibited him? Although that doesn’t seem a full explanation either, because my uneases are more to do with structural matters than mere use of prose.

Danny Smiřický, who apparently has appeared as Škvorecký’s alter ego in other novels, is a libidinous but chaste Eng Lit lecturer in a Toronto university Continue reading


book: The Dogs of Babel (2003) by Carolyn Parkhurst


Linguistics prof Paul Iverson comes home one evening to discover that his beloved artist wife Lexy is dead, having fallen from the top of the tall apple tree in their back yard. The only witness was their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Lorelei, adopted as a stray puppy by Lexy sometime before she and Paul met.

The cops decide it was an accident, but Paul’s less convinced. What on earth could have persuaded Lexy to go climbing a tree in the middle of the day? Added to that, there are some oddities around the house that aren’t easily explained: the books have been rearranged on their shelves, especially the shelves of the bookcase in his own study, and there’s evidence that Lexy fried up the steak they’d planned to have for supper and fed it to Lorelei on the kitchen floor. Why? Could these be clues left to tell him she was set on committing suicide?

Desperate to satisfy himself as to how Lexy met her death, Paul gets the crazed, grief-fueled idea that he could use his professional skills as a linguist to train Lorelei, the sole witness to Lexy’s death, to talk. He discovers he’s not the first to have Continue reading

book: The Hunter (1996; trans 2006 Juliet Winters Carpenter) by Asa Nonami


To use the term “police procedural” to describe this novel might be a little misleading, because the normal implication would be that this is a piece of realism. Yet the truth is that it is a police procedural and even that it’s arguably realism, in that there’s nothing inherently impossible here; it’s just that the m/os of the crimes are totally outwith normal experience, and the “weapon” used for most of them — a wolf-dog — is to say the least unusual.

Those m/os are uncovered fairly quickly and, since we’re given a little more information than the cops have, it’s not too hard to work out the culprit and motive for one set of crimes. That leaves us with the forensic pleasures of watching the cops and their procedures, the appeal of observing the evolving relationship between the two principal protagonists, and the genuine thrills of one longish section of the tale.

A man dies in a Tokyo diner of what appears to be spontaneous combustion, and the ensuing conflagration destroys the building in which the diner occupied the ground floor. It’s a baffling case, and the Tokyo PD deploys a major team of detectives to investigate it. Among them are Continue reading

Last Call (2012)

US / 24 minutes / color / Broken Box Dir: Jim Chaliz Scr: Stephen Herman, David Chin Cine: Bill Saxelby (or Saxleby, in closing credits) Cast: Anna Konkle, Christopher Schram, Joe Maloney, Maria Bardina, David Chin, Sophia Nelson.

Professional woman Kristin (Konkle) is phoned late one night by a man (Schram), identifying himself only as “3D,” who demands her help because he plans to commit suicide within the next half-hour or so. When she declares herself unable to help a complete stranger by telephone in these circumstances, he becomes increasingly aggressive toward her, portraying her as inadequate and implying that it’ll be because of her inadequacy that he dies.

Anna Konkle as Kristin

Finally he presents her with a riddle concerning two passengers in an elevator, telling her that if she can solve it she’ll have a key to saving his life. She offers two valid solutions to the riddle, of which he accepts the second, but still she can’t Continue reading

Panther’s Moon (1950)

vt Spy Hunt
US / 74 minutes / bw / Universal International Dir: George Sherman Pr: Ralph Dietrich Scr: George Zuckerman, Leonard Lee Story: Panther’s Moon (1948; vt Hunter’s Moon) by Victor Canning Cine: Irving Glassberg Cast: Howard Duff, Marta Toren (i.e., Märta Torén), Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Philip Dorn, Walter Slezak, Kurt Kreuger, Aram Katcher, Otto Waldis, Ivan Triesault, Jay Barney.

Although it’s technically a US production, this outing has “UK film noir” stamped all over it, including the use of a fading US star as leading man: Duff was accused in 1950 of communist sympathies and, if not for his relationship with Ida Lupino, whom he married in 1951, might have found himself ostracized by the industry. British and other European actors dominate the cast, notably the radiant Swedish actress Märta Torén as the female lead, and the movie is based on a novel by the stalwart UK thriller writer Victor Canning.

Marta Toren as Catherine

It’s the early days of the Cold War, and Europe is aswarm with clandestine agents of diverse allegiances.

In Milan, an agent called Gormand (Waldis) passes a piece of microfilm he’s brought from Istanbul to Catherine Ullven (Torén), who seems to be working with the British Secret Service. She in turn, pretending to be a journalist for the Apex News Service, sweet-talks Steve Quain (Duff), who’s escorting a pair of black panthers by train across Europe for eventual delivery to Bradley’s Circus in the US, into leaving the animals briefly Continue reading

book: The Villa Triste (2010; US vt Villa Triste 2013) by Lucretia Grindle


Just what I needed: a new favorite author.

I picked up Villa Triste (original title on its first publication, in the UK although Grindle is a US author, The Villa Triste) as an impulse buy at a library book sale, largely because the sale’s organizer is a friend and I didn’t want to risk offending her by leaving without a few books in my mitts. (That’s my excuse, anyway.) All I can say is: Thank heavens for serendipity, because this is probably the book I’ve most enjoyed all year.

The Villa Triste was the appropriated mansion in Florence where the Fascists and then the Nazis took their victims for torture. (Other torture houses elsewhere shared the name but it’s the Florentine one we’re concerned with. Even the disgusting regimes that use torture are aware enough of their disgustingness that Continue reading

Assignment—Paris (1952)

vt Assignment: Paris; vt European Edition
US, France, Italy / 84 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Robert Parrish (plus an uncredited Phil Karlson) Pr: Samuel Marx, Jerry Bresler Scr: William Bowers Story: Trial by Terror (1952 Saturday Evening Post) by Pauline and Paul Gallico, adapted by Walter Goetz, Jack Palmer White Cine: Burnett Guffey, Ray Cory Cast: Dana Andrews, Marta Toren (i.e., Märta Torén), George Sanders, Audrey Totter, Sandro Giglio, Donald Randolph, Herbert Berghof, Ben Astar, Willis Bouchey, Earl Lee, Joseph Forte, Pál Jávor, William Woodson.

Although based on a Gallico serial, this Cold War outing becomes a surprisingly tough piece that’s full of noir sensibilities and has a cast to match. It’s set in Paris and Budapest, with filming being done on location in both cities; what the Hungarians thought about the finished product is anyone’s guess.

We open at the New York Herald Tribune’s Paris HQ, where, according to the narrator (Woodson),

“Into the offices early last year came a phone call that made one of the most shocking headlines of the day. This is the story of the man who tried to break through an iron wall of censorship to get the facts behind that headline . . .”

The man in question is hotshot young reporter Jimmy Race (Andrews). The phone call was from the Trib’s man in Budapest, Barker (Forte), and concerned the sentencing there of an American, Robert Anderson, to twenty years’ hard labor for espionage.

Meanwhile the Trib’s Paris editor, Nick Strang (Sanders), has ordered the paper’s other reporter in Budapest, Jeanne Moray (Torén), back to base despite the fact that she’s been hot on the trail of a story that would Continue reading

book: Beautiful Bad (2019) by Annie Ward


The cops are called to a house in a small Kansas town where they find a traumatized child and two traumatized women, one of whom bears the marks of a violent attempted strangulation. There’s also a dead man in the basement. What could have happened?

The two women are longtime best friends Maddie and Jo. The child is Maddie’s son Charlie. The dead man is Maddie’s husband Ian. What the cops soon piece together is that Ian, a military veteran of too many combat zones and suffering from PTSD, flew into a vodka-enhanced fury and tried to murder Jo, whereupon Maddie stabbed him in the back with a kitchen knife to safe her friend’s life.

Case open and shut? Not quite . . . Continue reading

Another Face (1935)

vt It Happened in Hollywood
US / 69 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Christy Cabanne Assoc Pr: Cliff Reid Scr: Garrett Graham, John Twist Story: Thomas Dugan, Ray Mayer Cine: Jack MacKenzie Cast: Wallace Ford, Brian Donlevy, Phyllis Brooks, Erik Rhodes, Molly Lamont, Alan Hale, Addison Randall, Paul Stanton, Hattie McDaniel, Inez Courtney, Oscar Apfel, Frank Mills, Si Jenks.

“Broken Nose” Dawson (Donlevy) is a murderous gangster recognizable in at least fifty states because of the monstrous schnozzle referred to in his nickname. Accordingly, he gets plastic surgery from illicit physician Dr. H.J. Buler (Apfel) to straighten the nose. Afterwards, as protection, he gets his henchman Muggsie Brown (Mills) to murder the surgeon . . . then narks Muggsie out to the cops so he dies in the proverbial hail of bullets.

Brian Donlevy as Dawson — pre-operation and Oscar Apfel as Dr. Buler

What Dawson doesn’t know is that Muggsie failed to eliminate the nurse who attended on his operation, Mary McCall (Lamont). This will have implications further down the line . . .

Molly Lamont as Nurse Mary McCall

Armed (so to speak) with his new nose, Dawson heads (so to speak) out to Hollywood, where he talks his way into the Zenith Film Studios lot and gets a job on the new movie starring Sheila Barry (Brooks, channeling Bette Davis). It’s obvious Continue reading

book: Salvation of a Saint (2008) by Keigo Higashino, trans 2012 by Alexander O. Smith

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I’m that difficult codger in the corner who, alone in all the world, wasn’t entirely bowled over by the first of Keigo Higashino’s “Detective Galileo” novels to be translated into English, The Devotion of Suspect X: I thought it was okay but nothing more than that. I’ve enjoyed several of Higashino’s non-Galileo novels since then, however, and so decided the other day that I should be brave and try another in the series. I’m glad I did, because I found Salvation of a Saint agreed with me far more than its predecessor.

Successful businessman Yoshitaka announces after one year of marriage to his wife, internationally renowned quilter and quilting teacher Ayane, that he’s going to divorce her because she hasn’t become pregnant; so far as he’s concerned, the only reason to have a wife is in order to start a family, and this she’s proven herself incapable of doing. Accordingly, he’s taken up with her young assistant Hiromi, who with luck will be more fertile and give him the kids he craves.

By this time I was already thinking he’d richly deserve everything he might get—including, say, dying of arsenic poisoning—and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happens to him, hurrah!

The obvious suspect is Ayane, the wronged wife, but at the time of his death she was hundreds of miles away, visiting her parents. Suicide or accident seems out of the question, and Continue reading